“The Asparagus Incident”

Getting his face painted at the very first Farmer’s Market

Last weekend the town next to ours held their first Farmer’s Market of the summer. I was giddy with excitement. I planned an outing with some friends and off we went. I purchased strawberries and raspberries first. Charlie was insistent that he eat some right away. Then I went to one vendor and bought green onions and peas that needed to be shelled. They also had asparagus, which I gazed at longingly. I love asparagus, but my husband does not. Finally, as Charlie was trying to run away from me, I decided to buy some. I figured that I could cook the asparagus and my husband could choose not to eat it.

That night I steamed it for dinner and set it out on the table. I had low expectations for its consumption. Of course my son went wild for it. In fact, he probably ate ten spears. But keep in mind that they were thin and not the thick kind you  see at the grocery store. We had to bait him to eat his other food with the reward of asparagus. Then he handed the bowl to my husband and said, “Daddy, eat some asparagus.” My husband ate some without complaint. I’m finding that having Charlie around is pushing both Mike and me into eating foods we don’t normally like (tomatoes for me and now asparagus for Mike).

Fast forward to the next morning when I was preparing lunch. I asked Charlie, “Can I put asparagus in your lunch?” Immediately he said, “No, the other kids laugh, ha, ha ha.” My heart fell. He continued, “They say, ‘that green corn?'”

Oh, no. He’s three and he’s already getting teased about his lunches. He’s smart enough to even infer their criticism.

I have been partially aware of this over the past couple months by a couple comments Charlie makes at home. It’s hard to get information from him because he confabulates. For example, “Joe was bad and the teacher took him outside and made him climb a tree.” But this time it was clear. The kids laugh at his food and say mean things about it because they don’t understand what’s in there. I’ve realized that packing “kid friendly” lunches is not the answer either. Against my own best judgment I even sent him with gluten free chicken nuggets a couple times. At first he was into it, but then they ended up coming home uneaten. Chicken nuggets are not his thing even if they are popular with his peers. I don’t even know what to send anymore.

Butterfly boy

So I wrote a note to the teachers that I needed them to watch out for comments from the other kids about Charlie’s food. But I know they miss comments all the time. Once when I was picking Charlie up a little early the kids were coming back from the bathroom and one child said to another child wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt, “Mickey Mouse is for babies.” The other kid didn’t know what to say so I stepped in because the classroom teacher and aide completely missed the interaction. “Mickey Mouse is for children, not for babies.” The kid immediately backed down. But I’ve heard comments along those same lines coming from Charlie’s mouth. I know where he’s getting it.

Thankfully the school year ends June 15th. That will also be Charlie’s last day at his school. I literally cannot wait to pick him up that last day and enjoy the summer together. We will be moving so he’ll attend another school in the fall. There will be a lot of transitions this summer, but at least he will get some well-deserved “Mom time.” I’ve got some fun outings planned for us including more Farmer’s Market trips. I think he really needs the extra time with me. I know I do.

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14 thoughts on ““The Asparagus Incident”

  1. Oh, I could not have said it better myself. Our experience has been the same! We, too, are changing schools after the summer. Such transitions are a bit scary for all of us, but also very hopeful.

    My daughter has been attending a Lansing school (Michigan), and the budget is crunching, the resources scarce. It is stressfull for all. My daughter has been bullied, which makes it more difficult to pack the healthy lunches she enjoys (she will be made fun of…), and I have also witnessed abuse in the classroom from teachers and staff. I have witnessed teachers withholding meals from students as punishment, taking their food and throwing it away so that they can’t eat it, called names, and put down. It is a sad situation. Needless to say, my child is home with me. We look forward to a better situation next year.

  2. I feel your pain 🙁 I too have a little eater. He <3 's to eat things like asparagus and mussels,Kiwi, jicama ect. but if i ask him if he wants to pack it with him he says the same thing"no way! the kids laugh at me cause i bring different food" I have taught him and remind him that it is great to be special and he is different. He has slowly learned to embrace it but it never is easy to hear or know that others think u are "strange". Good Luck and know you are not alone and he will be better for you keeping his mind open and his belly full 🙂

  3. I totally understand wanting to shield Charlie from teasing, but in addition to talking to the teachers, you also might want to arm him with some responses to comments about his lunch. At our house the mantra has always been “everyone is allowed to like what they like” – we don’t eat meat because we don’t like it, but people who do like it have the right to eat it without anyone bothering them. It will serve Charlie well as he gets older to be able to shrug and say “I can like asparagus if I want to!”

    1. This is a really fantastic suggestion. Giving him the confidence/tools to defend himself from the teasing is probably a better long term solution than trying to just avoid it.

      And he would get to eat the delicious lunch.

  4. Skewers and toothpicks. Sounds strange but the day I started putting my four year olds food on sticks she became cool.

    Be glad you don’t have a girl. Apparently our school has a clique of girls (formed by moms outside of the school) and it is terrible.

    Have a fun summer with your boy!

  5. Kudos to you for raising an adventurous eater!
    I agree with VG about equipping your child with skills to withstand the bullies.

    My boys, now teenagers, usually pack their own lunches with whatever we have for leftovers. One day several years ago, my eldest packed up leftover escargot in shells for his lunch. He came home laughing that he was able to clear the table and eat by himself-a beautiful thing in his mind.

  6. I agree about helping your child learn to stand up for himself. The other thing you could try (if the school allows it) is offer to send enough of some things for him to share some of his favorites with his class. Sure, some will still have comments, but if he’s enthusiastic about something they might try it, and find they like it too.

  7. The average American schoolkid’s eating habits SUCK. Unfortunately, that’s the mainstream that kids feel beholden to. No one wants to violate peer norms.

    My son is a 4th grader who eats anything and everything at home but won’t bring green vegetables in his lunch. His classmates are nice kids from many ethnic backgrounds, and you’d think this would bode well for general acceptance of diverse foods. But even the kids who are 1st generation from countries with really great food traditions seem to have all bought into the idea of “normal middle American food” that isn’t great for you but that they won’t get teased for. Not only are vegetables uncool, branded food products (Gatorade, Lunchables, Frito Lay) are highly coveted!! It. Makes. Me. Crazy.

  8. I love MMiriam’s idea of sending along enough for Charlie to share with classmates once in a while, and VG’s idea of arming him with some responses, as well. He may be too young to be able to pull off “You’re just jealous YOU didn’t get asparagus in YOUR lunch. Want a little of mine? I’m willing to share,” but it’s worth a shot. 🙂

    Also, Mickey Mouse is for everyone! As is Snoopy. I wore my Snoopy tie to a job interview last week, and got positive comments. So there!

  9. This reminds me of being younder. I LOVED PEAS! Especially from the garden. Well, peas are not “cool” and one day I had a friend over and my mom made peas. I turned my nose up and said, “I hate peas!” The look of my moms face was shock but she played along. Everytime I now eat peas, I remember that day. Thankfully that day left an empression. Fast fwd 23 years later, I started my first day at a new job. I packed a sandwich (Fresh Roll, Roaster Red Pepper Hummus, Sliced Apple, Onion and Swiss Cheese) and someone asked “What are you eating?” with noticable disguest on her face. I PROUDLY said “A Hummus Sandwich.” So even though Charlie is embarassed now, it will not last. He will grow more confident and will be proud of his “different” choices.

  10. Not to question you or your parenting choices, but this is why I stopped working and am staying home with my kids at least until kindergarten. They need to develop a sense of themselves before having peers trying to influence them; Being a toddler is tough enough without having to deal with peer pressure.

    Have a wonderful summer with your son!

  11. I had a friend whose preschoolers called Asparagus–trees. As in–I’m going to eat my way through this forest of TREES!
    I don’t have advice on dealing with lunchroom pressure–except two great books–A bad case of stripes that was mentioned earlier and Yoko by rosemary wells,

  12. “Bread and Jam for Frances” is another good lunchtime story that might also show Charlie it’s OK and fun to eat different foods no matter what the other kids are eating.

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